Things major fans don't even know about This Is Us

NBC's time-jumping family drama This Is Us was the breakout smash of the 2016-17 season, and it's still got viewers hooked on the saga of Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia,) Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore,) and their three kids: Kate (Chrissy Metz,) Randall (Sterling K. Brown,) and Kevin (Justin Hartley.) A mixture of soap opera and heartfelt tearjerker, viewers can't get enough of the family's many triumphs and tragedies. As the show continues to amass viewers and Emmy Awards, take a look at these behind the scenes tidbits about the hit series.

Fogelman wanted to make an old-school network TV show

The era of "Peak TV" has been a blessing for television show creators. All those cable channels and streaming services looking to establish a foothold have done it by producing edgy, innovative shows, which means creators have been blessed with a lot of creative freedom. Oddly enough, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman wasn't interested in any of that. 

Fogelman set out specifically to make a broadcast drama. Network TV is "what I grew up with," he told Ad Age. "There is something that still happens to me, having a show on NBC with the little NBC logo and being able to watch football and Olympics, and see an advertisement for your show. On a personal level, it still feels like the holy grail to me." 

Jack was supposed to look a lot different

When Fogelman wrote the pilot for what became This Is Us, he envisioned—and wrote—patriarch Jack as "almost a little schlubbier, doughy" kind of guy. (You know, like a dad.) That all changed when casting began and Ventimiglia read for the part. 

"Milo came in off his motorcycle with his beard and his long hair, just looking like the coolest, handsomest guy in the world," Fogelman told Backstage. His vibe reportedly led Fogelman and his writers to alter not only Jack's appearance, but his personality, too.

Another actress was almost cast as older Rebecca

Matriarch Rebecca ages more than 30 years throughout the show, and Fogelman initially expressed concern that the aging process wouldn't be realistic enough for the thirty-something Moore. He thought about casting an older actress instead. 

"Honestly, there was a lot of talk," Fogelman told Digital Spy. "I had promised Mandy that if we didn't feel 100 percent confident that this was going to work and not be laughable, that we would pull the ripcord at the last minute… We were starting to make casting lists, in case we had to cast quickly and shoot those scenes with an [older] actress — and then at the same time, we were fine-tuning the make-up tests and shooting them and seeing how that felt."

Ultimately, makeup artist Zoe Hays created a very convincing sixty-something appearance on Moore. Hays and her team told E! News they worked hard to create a realistic look. "I think it's very easy to go 'Oh, we're going to stick a gray wig on and grey eyebrow, and make her look old,'" Hays said, "but that really is not who she would be as she aged."

Kate is loosely based on a real-life person

When some fans expressed annoyance that Kate was too "stereotypical," Metz cleared the air by revealing that her role was actually based on Fogelman's sister, Deborah Fogelman Devine. "Kate is loosely based off of Dan's sister and their relationship, where he was very successful as a writer and she was struggling with some issues," Metz said, according to Glamour.

Fogelman's sister is a consultant on the show. He told the Los Angeles Times: "For my sister, weight has been a constant battle, up and down, for her entire life…I said, 'I'm trying to find stories for Kate that aren't always about the weight,' and she said, 'It's always about the weight."

Fogelman actually lived where the show is set

While many know This is Us is set in Pittsburgh, some may be unaware Fogelman lived there for the first seven years of his life. His early childhood was spent in the Pittsburgh suburb of Bethel Park (where the fictional Pearson triplets grew up). As he recalled to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "I wanted to do something that reminded me of where I grew up."

Although the show is filmed in Los Angeles, Fogelman still aims to give the series a Pittsburgh feel. "We pulled pictures of Bethel Park and those areas surrounding it and as we extend their world a little bit, it will be what it feels like," he said, via the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

No, it's not just you: Ventimiglia's smile is crooked

Jack fans, you aren't imagining things: Ventimiglia does have a slightly crooked smile. He told People, "The nerves are dead in my lower lip. I call it a birth defect. My mother would call it me. I guess it's my signature."

That off-kilter grin even became part of the reason Ventimiglia got the 2006 role of Robert Balboa, Rocky Balboa's son, in the movie Rocky Balboa.

Crooked smile? Fine, whatever. We're happy just as long as he has more shirtless scenes.

Metz is dating someone from the show

While Kate Pearson's plot lines concern her often rocky love life with Toby Damon (Chris Sullivan,) the actress who plays her found love while working on the show. It's not with co-star Sullivan. Rather, Metz connected with cameraman Josh Stancil. They first stepped out together at the Entertainment Weekly SAG Awards party in 2017. "We're in a very healthy relationship. It's really mostly about energy," Metz said.

Chris Sullivan wears a fat suit

Although Toby is on a weight-loss journey on the show, actor Sullivan is much slimmer in real life. In order to fit the part, he has to wear a fat suit. When this surprising bit of info was confirmed by co-star Susan Kelechi Watson, per Us Weekly, some fans weren't too thrilled.

"I know this is a TV show, not real life, but there's something disheartening in knowing that the 'shame' these two are facing is not one Sullivan is actually experiencing himself. Especially since Chrissy Metz, who plays Kate, is," wrote Refinery 29.

Metz defended Sullivan's use of a fat suit on Watch What Happens Live, explaining that the show tested a lot of men for the role, but Sullivan was simply the match. "I get it — people think the authenticity is kind of ruined by that," she said. "But Chris has been heavier, so I think he understands the plight of being overweight. Also he was just the best man for the job. And people wear prosthetics all the time — it's just weight as opposed to, like, a nose or a chin. It's just kind of the name of the game."

Moore watched birthing videos to prepare for her part

Moore's role in This is Us is her first successful TV gig in awhile, and she seems to be taking it very seriously — so seriously that she spent time researching childbirth videos on YouTube for her scenes in the pilot, during which she gives birth to "The Big Three." Moore also worked with an on-set nurse for the birthing scene. "I wanted to make the pain realistic," she told the magazine, "not just that stereotypical screaming and buckling down."

"Now I'm even more terrified of actual childbirth one day," she later quipped to New York magazine.

There's a sweet backstory to Dr. K's name

If This Is Us hasn't made you cry yet, try this fact on for size: according to Glamour, Fogleman based the name of Dr. Katowski, the man who gave birth to the triplets on the show, on two real-life people. 

"I'm a huge New York Mets fan, so [ballplayer] Dwight Gooden was Dr. K (because the symbol for a strikeout in baseball is a K), and I always thought, That would be a funny thing to nickname a doctor," he said.

Now, here come the tears: "My wife's father's side of the family are Katowskis—Polish—and I always liked the name. So, I put that name in there for [her] side of the family." Awww.

The character is portrayed by legendary actor Gerald McRaney. Wondering where you've seen McRaney before? He was the title character on the '80s and '90s hit show Major Dad.

Losing weight is not in Metz's contract

Metz raised eyebrows when she revealed to People magazine in November 2016 that she was contractually required to go on the same weight-loss journey as her character, Kate.

However, she quickly backpedaled on her statement, telling People one month later: "It wasn't mandated in the contract, and I probably — if I ever said the word contract, I didn't mean it in that way. I was pitched that the trajectory of Kate is that she's going to lose weight. That is who and what's going on."

NBC does impose some restrictions on the show

This Is Us has been so successful that NBC does give Fogelman a lot of creative freedom. Fogelman told Glamour network input has been mostly "kind of small and smart," but NBC did have one big stipulation. 

During the show's first season, the series was scheduled for a mid-season hiatus around Christmas, and network executives strongly suggested Fogelman leave things open-ended. "They always said early on, 'When you go off the air around Christmastime, if there was some sort of cliffhanger that can lead into the break, that would be good," Fogelman told Glamour. So that's why the episode in question, "Last Christmas," ended with Toby collapsing and winding up in the emergency room. Fogelman said the cliffhanger stipulation was the only major "note" sent his way.

Jones has a famous daughter

Ron Cephas Jones, who plays Randall's biological father, William, on the show, is not the only famous one in his family. Daughter Jasmine Cephas Jones appeared in Hamilton on Broadway until December 2016, portraying Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds.

Ron talked about his daughter's success with Previously TV: "I can't even find the words. And I still, she's an incredible person, though, that's the thing. Always has been an incredible spirit. I'm just so proud, so incredibly proud." 

Moore and Fogelman have history together

Moore and Fogelman's professional history dates back to the 2010 Disney movie Tangled – Fogelman wrote the screenplay and Moore voiced Rapunzel.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Fogelman got his start writing blurbs for the TV Guide Network. His first script never landed on the screen, but it did land him a manager, an agent, and a job interview with Pixar, which eventually led to Tangled, and the rest, of course, is money-making history. Fogelman's other writing credits include Cars and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

This Is Us wasn't always called This Is Us

This is Us was originally titled 36, which is the age that triplets Kate, Kevin and Randall turn in the pilot episode. 

Fogelman was never sold on the original title though. He explained, via Glamour: "I threw 36 on it, and then I never liked it. Nobody ever liked it. I came up with This Is Us, I think, when I was in editorial. I decided I liked how it looked at the beginning [of the show], and I put it in there. But, there was a lot of debate over what the title of the show was gonna be."

Given its monster ratings and fan base, we think he made the right call.

There's a hilarious anachronism

With its past and present dueling formats, This Is Us often looks like a time capsule of the late '70s and early '80s. But thanks to an extra goofing off on the set, one scene will unintentionally go down as a time capsule of the mid-2010s. 

In the 2016 episode "The Pool," Jack and Rebecca take  the kids to the local swimming spot. While the circa-1990 family fun (and drama) goes on in the foreground, viewers can clearly watch a kid in the background "whip" and "nae-nae" and "dab." Those are three dance moves that definitely weren't around 30 years ago.